Jason Reitman on Resilience

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When’s the last time you had to make a difficult decision? As leaders, we do this every day. The choices are not always clear cut and there is no rewind. So how do we make the best judgments possible? As Jason Reitman, the award-winning director of such films as Juno and Up In the Air, discussed in a recent interview, it takes resilience.

When Jason first started out, he was presented with two conflicting options that would determine the rest of his career. Either he could direct the move Dude, Where’s My Car, or continuing working on his passion project, Thank You for Smoking. Dude was a wacky, lowbrow comedy that already had funding and studio approval. For a first time director, Jason would have been guaranteed a wide release and a needed paycheck.

Instead, Jason chose to work on a movie that was close to his heart. There were no assurances that he would be able to collect the necessary funds to make it and Jason knew that it would never get the attention of a broad comedy. But Jason had the foresight and fortitude to be aware that this decision would define every movie that followed. If he made a mass-market slapstick, then that’s how he’d be known. Jason preferred to garner a reputation as a cultured, intellectual moviemaker and he has.

My father [Ivan Reitman, producer of such classics as Animal House and Ghostbusters] wants to take your favorite song and play it better than you’ve ever heard it before.  I want to take your least favorite song and play it in a way that makes you love it.

In hindsight, Jason’s decision may seem obvious. I doubt it felt that way at the time. The book Resilience, Why Things Bounce Back defines resilience as the ability “to maintain core purpose and integrity among unforeseen shocks and surprises.” This involves a combination of optimism, creativity, and confidence. Like all leaders, he leaned on his resilience for the vision of what he wanted to achieve, the skills he possessed, and the hope that it would pay off.

So how do you build resilience? The American Psychological Association provides a few ideas:

  • Avoid seeing crises as insurmountable problems. You can’t change the fact that highly stressful events happen, but you can change how you interpret and respond to these events. Try looking beyond the present to how future circumstances may be a little better.
  • Move toward your goals. Develop realistic goals and do something regularly that enables you to move toward them.
  • Keep things in perspective. Consider the situation in a broader context and keep a long-term perspective.
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